The new animated film from Laika, the folks behind beautiful stop motion movies like “Coraline,” “Paranorman” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” is an odd couple, historical adventure that brings to mind “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.”
Hugh Jackman voices Victorian-era explorer Sir Lionel Frost. Dressed head to toe in houndstooth, he’s an anthropologist of sorts, scouring the world in search of mythical beasts. He tries to lure the Loch Ness Monster with bagpipes. “They do say music soothes the savage beast.“
Despite his adventurous spirit his peers at London’s Optimates Club don’t take him seriously. Desperate to secure his legacy, he follows the lead of an anonymous letter about Bigfoot sightings in America. “He’s neither ape nor man,” he says, “but something in between.” If he can track down the elusive beast he hopes the snobby Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) will be won over and offer membership into the exclusive club. Trouble is, Piggot-Dunceby is an old racist who doesn’t actually want progress in the form of new biological discoveries or anything else. “We have brought good table manners to savages of the world over,” he says proudly, “Now, they all tinker with changing the world and soon there will be no room left for me.” He’s so dead set against Frost’s mission he hires Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), an assassin to make sure the missing link goes unfound.
Meanwhile, it turns out the elusive Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) isn’t so elusive. The 8-foot-tall beast introduces himself almost as soon as Frost arrives in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Link, as Frost calls him, can speak, has opposable thumbs and, most poignantly, is lonely. “Your world gets bigger every day as mine gets taken away.” He wrote the letter in hopes that Frost would “discover” him and escort him to his ancestral homeland, the Himalayan mountains, where he hopes to meet others like him, his long-long Yeti cousins. “I need someone who knows the wild places of the world,” he says. “Who won’t shoot me.” Together, along with Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), the widow of Frost’s ex-partner, they set off to Phileas Fogg-it around the world,
In search of adventure and Mr. Link’s long-lost relatives.
“Missing Link” is beautiful looking with the special animated feel that only comes with the stop motion technique. The visuals feel organic, handmade in a way that slicker, computer generated movies simply don’t. In fact, the visuals held my attention even when the story didn’t.
Woven into the script are timely messages about British colonialism, sometimes earnest—“The world,” says The Elder (Emma Thompson) to Frost, “is something to be claimed as a symbol of their worth.”—sometimes funny—they find Shangri-La or in the Yeti language, “Keep out, we hate you.”—that are timely and make a good argument for personal evolution. “Do we shape the world,” asks Frost, “or does the world shape us?”
It’s good stuff and Galifianakis’s Mr. Links is also a treat. An innocent with an imposing physical presence is a classic cartoon trope and with equal amounts of slapstick and poignancy, he livens up the proceedings. Galifianakis does great, understated voice work from the heartbroken—”I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my life alone. Won’t you take me there?”—to the hilarious—”Your utopia sucks!” It’s a wonderful performance that provides the movie with a great deal of heart.
Galifianakis aside, “Missing Link’s” over-all story misses the mark. Fight scenes make up much of the running time but (BIGTIME SPOILER ALERT) it’s Mr. Link’s assimilation into the human world that seems to run counter to the story’s overall anti-colonialist subtext. It puts a pretty bow on the tale and even sets it up for a sequel but makes absolutely no sense given the spirit of the film. Add to that a supporting role for a woman that isn’t quite as evolved as I‘m sure the filmmakers assumed and you have a film that will engage the eyes—it’s beautiful looking—but not the brain.